So here is a picture of my wonderful recording band. We will be playing this Friday at the 55 Bar in New York (if you or friends happen to be here) – all deets on my gigs page. Billy, is in Argentina so he won’t be at this one, which is a shame. Playing with him is like riding a racehorse – both incredibly sensitive and powerful at the same time. And, even if he is playing gently, you can feel that immense power is available to you – should you decide to go galloping off into the sunset, flying over every fence and hedge on the way. It’s so exciting. If you’ve seen him perform, watching him play gives you some idea, but actually playing with him is … well a whole other …er, animal. A horse animal.
Meanwhile, the rest of the band is amazing and we actually rehearsed (with Billy) and had more ideas. And I’ve had tons more since then. It’s hard to make myself go to bed even! I am so inspired by the subject and by my musicians (we have chemistry) – both their incredibe talent and their confidence in me (and mine in them). I can’t wait to go into the studio on Saturday and Sunday. I am so excited – and grateful – to be making this recording, and the more I think about it, the more important I think it is – speaking of runaway horses. I feel like I’m just riding this idea with no reins – clinging on and seeing where it’s going, hoping I don’t fall off (like I used to when I did real horse riding as a girl) because I really want to see where we end up. I have never been so excited to make a CD – and this will be my fifth.
In other news, my dear mentor, Mark Murphy died while I was in California. I was asked to write a tribute, which ended up being the Number One most read article in LondonJazzNews that week – which he totally deserved – and more. You can read it HERE.
And speaking of California, HERE is one of the songs we are recording this weekend in a video made by someone who heard me the last time I was in Saratoga and asked if he could film me this time. Somehow one of the camera mics got messed up but I think it’s manageable. This is a trio version. When I record it for the album, I think I want to do it just duo with my fabulous cellist, Dana Leong – one of the ideas I had this week. But we’ll see how it goes in the studio. More to come. Meanwhile, here are some photographs of my trip to California.
The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival was incredible, not least because we actually made it! First of all, two weeks ago, I fell and sprained my ankle, which put paid to dieting into the “perfect dress” for the PBS taping. Three days before the gig I was about half an inch away from it, but it was so tight I’d have had to walk like a robot and not be able to sit down without my body automatically springing into prone position! But three days before the gig, I managed to find the perfect dress on line. Sort of one-shoulder loose-flowing Greek goddess style with a split up the side in the lining and in the diaphanous fabric over it. I changed it from a “ho-dress” (a la the recent Met Ball affairs worn by Kim Kardashian and J.Lo and others who misinterpreted the brief) into sexy but classy, by sewing up the split in the diaphanous bit so there was the merest whisper of leg showing through it, and not bare. And actually, although the other dress would have been better for a studio taping, this one was perfect for the stage taping.
So I was all set. Until, the night before the gig, I got a text (thank you, Lord for making me sign up for text alerts) saying that all our flights were cancelled! This meant scrabbling around to buy – at vast expense – train tickets to Rochester for the four of us at $119 (plus $8.50 insurance) per ticket. It also meant getting up at 5AM in order to make the ONLY train that would get us there on time. The panic was insane. But we all made it and caught the 7:15AM which was getting us in a few hours later than the plane would have but … hey, getting us IN! And I could sleep on the 6.5 hour train journey, right?
So … a little tip: If you are hoping to sleep, never sit in the front car. The train whistle, that sounds so romantic and soft from anywhere else on the train, is blaring right in your ear in the front car. Added to which my fellow passengers (not my band, but the people behind us) were somehow able to sleep and were snoring loudly. Also farting. This is bad when your Kenny Werner meditation MP3 is exhorting you to “Breath in. Breath in deeper than you want to!” I moved to a new carriage, but somehow managed to sandwich myself between a baby with Whooping Cough (behind me) and a woman who was singing loudly and snapping her fingers in the seat in front. But it did mean I could sort out my set list, which came out like automatic writing. As it poured out of me, I thought, “But yes. This is perfect! This is the perfect song to follow this one….” – among other thoughts, like “Shut up!” and even meaner ones.
The train (Amtrak) also kept cutting out, like a cheap electric train set, which was adding to the stress. Eventually, we rolled up to about five minutes outside of Rochester Station, already an hour and a half late, and ended up waiting nearly an hour more because there was debris on the line. A motorbike, to be precise. I was ready to jump out of a window by now, which would have been bad (especially with my still-swollen ankle). I had already missed being interviewed by the Rochester 901.0 radio station by my favorite Derrick Lucas. I was not going to miss this gig. But luckily, the debris was cleared and we rolled in, where we were picked up by Larry, who always seems to pick me up at the Rochester Jazz Festival. But no time to check into the hotel properly, and we were late for sound check. Aaaiieeee!
Finally, even later than “already late” we did a lightning-fast sound check so they could let in the giant line that was outside, leaving me 15 minutes to get ready! For a PBS taping! Having got up at 5AM. Having not been able to sleep on the train. But miraculously, I did transform myself from a baggy-eyed granny, into a GILF (F for Fondle of course!) with the help of a benevolent Universe, which had also seen fit to hide my hair brush (thank the Lord for fingernails!). Hair. Check. Makeup. Check. Dress. Check. Shoes… I pulled them out of my bag … two right shoes! Yes I wore them. They were gold! My other shoes were PayLess Shoe Source ballet flats! Luckily, I had already ordered a tall stool ahead of time because my sprained ankle turns into a boneless elephant’s foot if I stand on it for more than 15 minutes right now. But nerves? Shmerves! There literally wasn’t time.
The gig was so much fun! All the guys played brilliantly – even better than last month at the 55 – and you can read two wonderful reviews, one in the Democrat and ChronicleJeff Spevak review PDF and another review in the Rochester City Paperhere. Or in print, right here. Plus, in the City Paper post-Festival round-up I was referred to as one of “two favorite” vocalists (the other was Cecile McLorin Salvant, who I love), which is pretty amazing given how many truly great singers were at the festival.
Giant thanks to the festival’s Artistic Director, John Nugent who keeps having me back and put me in Kilbourn Hall this year because, he said, I’d earned it. And Barbara Cherry who insisted I did “Here’s to Life” (I had sent her a duo version I did with Dana years ago) and her favorite, “Eleanor RIgby” – both of which were popular choices. She also hooked up the cello by putting us in touch with the wonderful Sullivan Violins company, who generously loaned us one actually made by Ken Sullivan. She took pictures, handed out cards and was generally very bossy – in a good way. Thank you also to lovely Jessica, who was so capable she made me wish I had a daughter – my capable granddaughters are just a bit young! Every time I turned round to say: “Oh no! My pen!” or “Help! I forgot my (two right) shoes!” Jessica would be right there, holding her clip board in one hand, and my forgotten items in the other. Thank you! And thank you Rochester! I absolutely love you!
So … in spite of the Universe (or perhaps it was just testing me before the gig) we had a good one. Two standing ovations in Kilbourn Hall. People who were in the first set came back for the second set four hours later (Rochester Jazz festival audiences are the business, as we say in England). And PBS – who interviewed me after the first show (which they taped – said they were very happy. It will air all over the PBS networks in 2016 and of course you will be fully informed. As Dana said: “PBS! Our mums are going to go crazy!”
After all that, too exhausted to really hang out after the gig – although I did run into fabulous Joe Locke, who was playing Kilbourn Hall the next night (and who was so absolutely essential on my Beyond the Blue album) – I went straight to sleep, without checking that there was a link to my Kickstarter campaign from my website – as directed on all the little cards we were giving out to the wonderful audience. And I didn’t discover it until really late the next day because, at the airport with Dana, I suddenly came over all light headed and nearly passed out and then threw up (elegantly, I hope) in a nearby bin. An ambulance came, for heaven’s sake. In case it was a heart attack. And we had to get a plane four hours later. But, see, Rochester people are so sweet that even the man who had to change the bin found me later and asked me: “Are you feeling better now?”
I had a fantastic birthday week this year! Those of you who were there when he popped in to my gig a few months ago will recognize Dougal – AKA my friend Graham – in the picture (left). He took me to the premiere of Outlander Season 2, on April 1, which was one of the most fun parties ever! More fun even than mine and Graham’s “Come as a Cocktail” party we had in the 80s. I was a midnight lace (I know, I’d never heard of it either). Graham was an aviator. This was so much more fun – not just because I got to have my picture taken with the (other) series’ hunk, AKA Jamie. Phoar! But mostly because I got to hang the whole night with one of my oldest and sweetest friends. And of course there was Champagne! And unlike our “Come as a Cocktail” party, I didn’t pass out and wake up the next day having missed the entire thing. (I think the Golden Cadillacs did me in).
Graham, by the way, is given notes and gifts of things like undies (okay, they were socks, but still!) by people in the crowd. Shameless! After Party # 2 (the picture above was taken at Party # 1) Graham’s limo dropped me at Birdland where I had a lovely hang with Sheila Jordan and the Steve Kuhn Trio and was groupie to my own man, Billy. If I’d had socks to give, I would have! And Kurt Elling was there and sat in. It was fun. And then on Friday I celebrated my actual birthday at Birdland and Sheila sang Happy Birthday to me from the stage. And Billy had secretly procured a chocolate cake for me with nine candles (hmm!) which I made a wish on. And I wore the necklace my brother made me which spells out H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y T-E-S-S-A – a fitting gift for a nine-year-old, except I was minus 29 when he gave it to me because I’ve had it 20 years.
And then on Sunday we went to an Easter party with MORE cake – and also Pavlova (an Australian confection which is insanely delicious … recipe HERE). And they had a great pianist Emmet Cohen and I sat in and I wasn’t nervous at all! (which I normally am if it’s just sitting). Billy took this picture.
Being a musician is such a hard road (maybe even if you are wildly successful, I’ll let you know when that happens!) that these little things – a fun party, performing (speaking of which, I am at the 55 Bar on Friday with Saul and Yasushi), a surprise birthday cake (especially chocolate), Pavlova cake, having the great Sheila Jordan sing Happy Birthday to you, hanging with old friends – make it like you have memory foam in your shoes – not those horrid hard gel inserts (will someone please explain those to me!) – a bit easier.
And speaking of old friends, Graham is Grand Marshall this Saturday for National Tartan Week in New York. Leading the parade starting at 2pm on 6th AVenue between 44th and 55th Streets. http://nyctartanweek.org/ if any of you want to go and throw socks at him!
And here is Sheila singing at Birdland – an entire week at age 86 and a quarter – where she sang Happy Birthday to me and made me feel like a movie star!
Lew Soloff died on Sunday. A terrible loss for the jazz community and for everyone who knew him. I was invited by LondonJazzNews to write a short tribute because we played together so often in the past couple of years – in fact, the very last thing Lew said to me, a few weeks back on the phone, was: “You know I love playing with you, right?” I did. Because he told me all the time. And everybody loved playing with him. Click here to read the tribute at LondonJazzNews. Meanwhile, a few photographs of some of our gigs below. And to view a video of Lew soloing on ‘A Taste of Honey’ at our gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in September 2014, click the B&W image below.
Inspired by Stephen Graham’s excellent Marlbank comparison blog on Angel Eyes. I thought I would share six very different versions of ‘Send in the Clowns’ that you might not know. This song has been recorded by so many people. Kind of like ‘My Way’ – except I don’t think Sid Vicious actually did it. Thank the lawd! And speaking of ‘My Way’ (made most famous by Frank Sinatra), here is a gorgeous version of ‘Send in the Clowns’ by Frank, performed duo with Spanish guitar – not sure what to make (if anything) of the fact that he doesn’t look at the guitarist at the end. There is also a karaoke version that you can do, a figure skated version (I have a weakness for figure skating and this one is amazing), and an instrumental solo piano version by Freddie Mercury (who knew?). But first, the (I think) definitive version by Sarah Vaughan. All on brilliant, wonderful YouTube. Click on the picture. In order of appearance Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Blossom Dearie, Freddie Mercury, Yuna Kim (start at 1:17) and you!
Everjazz was fantastic. Perhaps particularly because I actually made it, after a hair-raising drive from Perm, which was … fascinating – if by ‘fascinating’ you mean scary as hell and twice as fast. We started out at 9am, still dark, under a mauve sky which turned to blue to white to gray as our journey progressed into a snowstorm. “Finally!” I thought, all excited. “Real Russian snow!” But I kind of got less excited about the weather as we drove.
Hurtling along a slippery road, with snow blowing about on it like stage smoke, lined with relentless pine forests on either side – or silver birch copses hiding the odd triffid-like pine tree – every now and then we’d come upon twisted trucks stuck in a ditch, sort of like Star Wars metal beast versions of skeletons in an elephants’ graveyard. It reminded me of Los Angeles driving, except the cars whizzing by are only on one side of you because the road to Ekaterinburg is only two lane traffic. That sounds like it would be kind of country-lane-ish, doesn’t it. It wasn’t.
Who knew there were so many trucks? And daredevils wanting to play “Chicken” with trucks. At one point I dozed off and woke up to see – skittering towards us out of the blizzard (at speed) – a car in OUR LANE (at speed) with a huge truck in its lane. Yes, at speed. We were all at speed!
“Is okay! Is okay!” said my driver, Tatyana, patting my arm, as I hurriedly texted Billy the details of my travel insurance policy, which includes a clause to have my body shipped home so my son never has to pick up that cost. “Russian drrrivers!” she said, rolling her eyes. “Crrrazy!” (and her Rs) “Da!” I thought, with one eye on the speedometer (120 km per hour!) as we shot past a fresh wreath on the snowbank to our left followed by about 100 feet of charred car remains.
No danger of me falling asleep again. I don’t know why you feel safer if you keep your eyes peeled (well, obviously if you are driving, but I mean even as a passenger). But every time I looked up, it was to see cars or trucks looming out of the white coming towards us in our lane (at speed). And Tatyana patting my arm and smiling comfortingly. So when I say like driving in Los Angeles, I mean with cars hurtling towards youinyour lane, as opposed to on either side of you heading in the same direction (which is quite bad enough, thanks). I guess the car in front was having trouble picking a lane because of the ice. Eek. Eyes closed! No, eyes open! No closed! Okay, open!
Rather like Los Angeles, I was very relieved when we came upon a huge accident-induced traffic jam, until Tatyana (who could have given Lewis Hamilton a run for his money), whizzed off the road to make a massive detour through several snow-submerged villages, linked by extremely narrow one-lane roads. The only signs of life were gigantic Newfoundland type dogs on long chains in people’s front drives. Oh, and one guy ahead of us who seemed to be digging himself out of a snow drift. Amazingly, about half an hour later, we came out on the main road, ahead of the traffic. If that had been me driving, we’d have come out two or three hours later in exactly the same spot we went in (that actually happened to me in Central Park once).
But it could have been worse. I could have been waiting for a bus in one of the many bus shelters we passed. What? Are people air-lifted to them? Because I didn’t see any towns or villages nearby. Or buses, come to that. Just miles (and miles) of snow and pine forests. There were also random pedestrian crossings. I’m not kidding. In the middle of nowhere! Perhaps they are thinking if you build the pedestrian crossing, the pedestrians will come or something.
Anyway, arriving at my lovely hotel (the same one I stayed in when I performed at the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall) was … well, lovely. More than lovely – a blessed relief!
The club, Everjazz, was great! I loved the decor – even though the tables had all been moved around for the party. Huge photographs lined the walls, the menus were sort of vinyl records, and in the room where the band ate dinner, the lighting was beautiful – cymbals (pictures below). Very clever. The band was wonderful again (same pianist, Anton Zoobarev, along with Portuguese drummmer, Luis Candeias, and bassist, Nelson Cascais), and the entertainment was … fantabulous.
They even had a bar tender show, with people flinging bottles around and making cocktails at the same time. And then I came home and packed – no time to sleep – so I could be ready for the 4am lobby call to come home …. for Christmas … with Billy.
Being a professional musician sometimes feels to me like being the girl in the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Red Shoes. Now that I’ve put the shoes on, I can’t get the damn things off, and I have to keep dancing no matter how tired I get. Except, I’m not dancing I’m singing.
In the Powell and Pressburger movie, inspired by the fairy tale, when the heroine is asked why she wants to dance by the ballet director, Lermontov, she says:
Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don’t know exactly why, but… I must.
Vicky: That’s my answer too.
At the same time, “music” is a sort of separate entity which I love like a child. Or, at least, how I feel about it reminds me, at times, of how I felt about my son when he was a child. I feel protective of it. I look after it. Do things for it that I wouldn’t do for myself – odd though that sounds. I would fly in a small plane to get to a gig for it. Train it across the Siberian tundra in sub-zero temperatures for it. Sacrifice things for it. Go without fancy clothes for it. Forgo holidays. Give up journalism for it. Not only would, … I have done all the above – except fly in a small plane – yet. And I would be scared but I’d even do that (with my fingers crossed, of course).
It is my quest.
: a journey made in search of something
: a long and difficult effort to find or do something
Both of those.
And like all good quests, following this path professionally has taught me more about myself – my faults, my strengths, my weaknesses, my good side, that er … other side – than anything else I have ever done, with the exception of child-rearing. And it utilizes everything you are… every experience you have ever had, every death of a friend or relative, everything you’ve ever believed, everything you think you know and (I’m sure) a ton of things you know that you don’t consciously know you know.
Each experience adds another color, and the more experience you have, the more colors you have to express yourself with. All communicated wordlessly – even if you sing actual words. All perceptible to anyone who wants to perceive it. Or receive it. Or resonate with it – with you. Which is probably why, when someone else gets it, that is the most affirming thing ever. And, even though being a musician is work – hard work, constant and full-time, on call 24 hours, even while you are sleeping – few things can beat the feeling of communicating absolutely essence-to-essence with an audience. It’s about that.
Every now and then I have flirted with the idea of taking off the red shoes but, I realized recently, they are my feet now. So here I – still – am.
“To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Whoever insists on safety and security as primary conditions of life cannot have faith; whoever shuts himself off in a system of defense, where distance and possession are his means of security, makes himself a prisoner. To be loved, and to love, need courage, the courage to judge certain values as of ultimate concern – and to take the jump and to stake everything on these values.”
― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
Yes I am returned! The Edinburgh Jazz Festival was superb and sold out (as I think I already said somewhere). But I wish I had taken some pictures. This is the problem with not having family in the audience – though, of course, the benefit is you don’t have embarrassing scenes like my mum reading aloud from my book – er, that would be LOUD – to her entire table, or parents busting in through the doors shouting ostentatiously: “Excuse me! Excuse me! We are here to see our DAUGHTER, the singer!” My dad (bit of an attention seeker) has even perfected a sort of Royal Wave for when I acknowledge him in the crowd, which – God forfend! – I forget to do. Early in my career, he even once pounced upon the stage but was, thankfully, wrestled to the ground by my brother as he reached for the mic.
I spent most of the rest of my trip doing social things – including attending my niece’s wedding at which I was reminded of what it was actually like to spend a prolonged period of time with my ex-mother-in-law (who makes my own mother seem shy and retiring, even – almost – discreet).
For the curious among you (cough!), below is a photo taken at said wedding by my son of me and my ex. Somehow we are great friends (his three-year-old calls me Aunty – poor confused darling!), even though he has a swimming pool nestling in the acreage of his back garden (as my mother-in-law was very eager to show me within seconds of greeting me – she had pictures!) and I live in penury in Harlem wishing I had a back garden to look at (and maybe a window to look at it through). But then, I’m the musician around here, even if he does resemble one — Eric Clapton, right?
Meanwhile, my journey home was insane! The line to get through security snaked through the entire Heathrow airport and into the parking lot! By the time I got to the end there was no time to even buy duty free (naturally this is the only reason I have not brought all of you gifts of wine and incense). And the list of things you can and cannot take is bonkers. For example, you can’t take moisturizer or cosmetics but you can take massive big knitting needles. I foolishly admitted to having a lipstick in my purse (I mean you can’t lie can you, even though I think I would have got away with it) which meant the confiscation of my precious TWENTY-FIVE DOLLAR lipstick (I know, I know … bought during some kind of mental blackout). Annoyingly, I didn’t have a knitting needle with me to stab the girl who confiscated it. Or my glasses case (also forbidden) to assault and batter her with. I mean, it’s no wonder that poor deranged woman the other day tried to hijack a plane with a pot of Vaseline. – although thank goodness some brave person managed to overpower and wrest it from her before anything terrible happened!